‘Yellow Brick Road’ Discovered in Pacific Ocean During First Exploration of Underwater Volcanoes

The Wizard of Oz got a hat tip from scientists wandering an ancient and underwater chain of volcanoes in the Pacific Ocean when they discovered what looked like a ‘yellow brick road’. The natural brickwork was actually the result of volcanic geology breaking the rock in a curiously uniform manner.

E/V Nautilus pilots exploring the Liliʻuokalani Ridge’s Ancient Seamounts as part of the Luʻuaeaahikiikekumu mission were behind the discovery, which you can watch in the video below. In it, the team tries to sample some manganese crust from the sea floor with the help of a robotic arm and has some success.

Using The Claw well gives the team a chance to more closely inspect a clump of ferromanganese crust, a marine sedimentary mineral deposit made up of iron and manganese oxides. Specimen secured, the boat shuffles and stumbles into a surprisingly dry section of what they call a “baked crust” where the cobbled “yellow brick road” is visible.

“What is this?” says a researcher. “The road to Atlantis,” says another.

“What may look like a ‘yellow brick road’ to the mythical city of Atlantis is actually an example of ancient active volcanic geology!” EVNautilus explained on YouTube. The strange geological formation was located along a section of the summit of Seamount Nootka located within the Papahānaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

At first, it looked like a piece of dried lakebed, but it has since been identified as hyaloclastite, which is a type of volcanic rock found where high-energy eruptions have deposited fragments on the sea floor. The reason it looks so brick-like is that it has been cracked as a result of repeated heating and cooling over time as further eruptions occurred in the area.

Think of it a bit like the top of a good brownie; the surface is solid but can rise and fall with heat and cold creating cracks in its surface. This ancient volcanic rock behaved similarly, only for much longer and with a saltier taste.

The delight of the pilots who made such a strange observation is palpable in the video, but it is undoubtedly a feeling that they will have to get used to as the exploration of these seamounts is the first research in the underwater area. Here, they hope to figure out why there’s a complicated split in the seamount path, but who knows what they’ll find along the way.

Earlier this year, the same expedition captured incredible footage of a headless chicken monster swimming. Apparently, they have a few more surprises in store.


This article was originally published in May 2022.

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